More than just Mrs Wilde at heart

The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde | Barbican, London Shoot Me in the Heart | Gate, London The Boy Who Left Home | Lyric Studio, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

'There are times", Oscar Wilde's wife tells him, "when what you say appears so very limited." Hear, hear. One of the charms of Thomas Kilroy's play is that it creates a character, Constance, who sees right through Oscar's look-at-me wit.

'There are times", Oscar Wilde's wife tells him, "when what you say appears so very limited." Hear, hear. One of the charms of Thomas Kilroy's play is that it creates a character, Constance, who sees right through Oscar's look-at-me wit.

Robert O'Mahony hams it up as Wilde, but Kilroy's play, in a production by Dublin's Abbey Theatre, demonstrates the emptiness of his epigram-toting bravado. This Oscar is torn between his pioneering licentiousness, and the refuge from it - and from self-loathing - he finds with his family.

In this speculative portrait of Mrs Wilde's responses to her husband's downfall, Kilroy creates a coolly intelligent woman whose life accommodates other crises than Oscar. Unravelling in flashback the rather contrived mystery of Constance's fatal fall down a staircase, the play contends that Wilde's "perversion" rekindled his wife's uneasy memories of her father. It's with dad in mind that Jane Brennan's Constance boils over when Bosie asks to see her children.

That eye-opening interlude, while uncharacteristic of a spare, artfully composed production, indicates the emphatic nature of Kilroy's script, which - by means of a formidably self-aware heroine - imposes its own interpretations, leaving little to the audience's imagination. But its conclusions, about Wilde and his wife, are intriguing, while both Brennan and Andrew Scott's bleating Bosie are highly watchable.

Wilde would have applauded Told By an Idiot's new fairytale, Shoot Me in the Heart. This describes another love that dare not speak its name: between an adventurer, Andrea, and Carlotta, a woman from his home town who stopped growing when she was seven.

The company, under the direction of founders Paul Hunter and Hayley Carmichael, conjures a community that, embarrassed by this blip in their conformity, proposes stretching Carlotta to a respectable height. Even the wind winces when full-grown man and half-grown woman kiss. The actors play horses, bells and garden gnomes too, in a production whose transformative, magic realist momentum hints at the continent from which this short story, by Argentinian Julio Llinas, derives.

This is as much a celebration of theatrical possibility as of prejudice-confounding love. It delights in subverting expectations, in stylising reactions and in overlapping scenes, absurdly. And it doesn't patronise its diminutive heroine, who's fatally liberated by love. Lisa Hammond is calm and unaffected at the eye of the play's storm, Vincenzo Nicoli dashing but delicate as her suitor.

Michael Wynne's The Boy Who Left Home grapples less successfully with more familiar fairytales. It's not news that the archetypal children's story seethes with Freudian undercurrents. Wynne pitches the titular waif (a relentlessly wide-eyed Richard Glaves) into a forest where fairytales are true, seeking to use the resultant mythic medley to explore how abused children negotiate the tangled paths to adulthood.

The only explanation for his breathy, sentimental dialogue - repentant paedophiles begin their confessions with "once upon a time..." - is that Wynne sought to write in the fairytale idiom and director Nick Philippou failed to bring that to life.

The production generates an atmosphere of dislocation from reality, and features fruity performances from an ensemble cast. But its episodic structure lacks forward thrust, not least because, even were it to announce its impending arrival with a "fee, fi, fo, fum", the concluding twist could hardly be less unexpected.

* 'The Secret Life of Constance Wilde': Barbican, EC2 (020 7638 8891), to Sat; 'Shoot Me in the Heart': Gate, W11 (020 7229 5387), to 14 Oct; 'The Boy Who Left Home': Lyric Studio, W6 (020 8741 8701), to Sat

Comments